The electorate in the North has delivered a loud message to Stormont's politicians that the power-sharing crisis must end, the Northern Ireland Secretary has said.

As the latest political bid to revive the dormant institutions began in Belfast, Julian Smith said he sensed the main parties had realised the people's number-one priority was the floundering public services that have been left rudderless as a result of the three-year governance impasse.

Mr Smith held bilateral meetings with the leaders of the five parties at Stormont House today as a new talks initiative process got under way ahead of a looming deadline in January.

Round-table talks involving the UK and Irish governments and all the parties are scheduled for later this week.

Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said: "The one clear message I have got from the general election in Northern Ireland is that people have been putting pressure on all of the parties to get back to Stormont, to get back to work, to make decisions for Northern Ireland in Northern Ireland and, of course, the job of the British and Irish governments is to work together with the parties to put a foundation in place to allow that to happen, and we are running out of time."

If a devolved executive is not resurrected by 13 January, legislation that gives the civil service extra powers to run public services will expire, and Mr Smith will be under a legal duty to call a snap Assembly election.

Arlene Foster and Jeffrey Donaldson at Stormont
Arlene Foster and Jeffrey Donaldson speaking after the talks at Stormont

After the meetings, Mr Smith described the mood as "positive" and said he detected a willingness to strike a deal. He said the British government was willing to do "everything it can" to support any fresh investment in public services.

"I think there were some very interesting results in Northern Ireland," he said of the election.

"The sense that I get today is that every party has had time to reflect and there are serious issues to reflect upon and the biggest message they got on the doorstep essentially wasn't about Brexit, wasn't about their own parties' individual policies but it was the fact that this executive and assembly has remained dormant for 1,000 days and I think my sense from everybody is there was a realisation that that was not a sustainable position.

"The Good Friday Agreement was something that everybody worked incredibly hard on and this symbol, this empty symbol at the top of this hill (Stormont's Parliament Buildings) cannot go on any longer - we have to govern and we have to get our Northern Ireland parties governing in the best interests of Northern Ireland citizens."

The power-sharing administration imploded almost three years ago amid a row about a botched green energy scheme.

That rift soon widened and refocused on long-standing disputes over issues such as the Irish language and same-sex marriage. With same-sex marriage having been legislated for at Westminster earlier this year, the wrangle over the Irish language remains the key stumbling block.

Michelle O'Neill Mary Lou McDonald and Conor Murphy Stormont
Michelle O'Neill Mary, Lou McDonald and Conor Murphy outside Stormont

The parties are also trying to agree reforms to Assembly structures - in particular the contentious petition of concern voting mechanism that effectively hands large parties the ability to veto changes, even if a majority support them.

After meeting Mr Smith, DUP leader Arlene Foster acknowledged that voters had made it very clear that they wanted Stormont back up and running.

"I listened very carefully during the election campaign and right throughout the election campaign there was a desire to get Stormont back up and running again," she said.

"Therefore we are here to try to make that happen. I hope all the other parties will too."

She agreed that the election had created a new "momentum" towards finding a resolution.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said there should be no "red lines" in the negotiations.

"It's not helpful in the course of discussions for people to be setting out red lines or talking about red lines," she said.

"That's not how we understand these matters or how we articulate it. These are matters that have to be resolved. And it's not about the political parties, it's about citizens, it's about people in particular who live here in the north," said Ms McDonald.